Custody Considerations – How to Survive the Holidays

            It is October 28 as I am writing this Blog and Halloween is a few days away, Thanksgiving will be shortly before or after this post is published with Hanukah and Christmas shortly thereafter.  The holidays can be a stressful time for parents and children in intact families, let alone for families whose parents are separated or divorced.  Best practices advice for parents to try to get on the same page with respect to the holidays so that everyone knows the schedule and plans can be made in advance.  This gives both parents and children a sense of stability knowing what lies ahead.  Parents should also memorialize the agreed holiday schedule in a written agreement or custody order/stipulation so there is no question later as to what has been agreed upon.

            In some cases parents continue to celebrate holidays together, although I have found this usually occurs when parents are very newly separated and are attempting to retain what they believe to be some semblance of normalcy for their children.  However, this is rare and at some point, parents will need to figure out how to divide the holidays.

           In most cases, it makes sense for holidays to be alternated each year.  So for example, in even years, one parent would have custody on Thanksgiving and the other parent would have custody on another holiday.  In odd years, that would be the reverse.  However, there may be cases where one party does not celebrate a particular holiday and is willing to allow the other parent to have custody every year.  For example, if the parents do not celebrate the same religious holidays, the parties may agree that one parent has custody of the children on all of the Jewish holidays and the other parent has custody of the children on all of the Christian holidays. 

            If each parent’s family celebrates at a different time, it may be possible to split the day.  For example, if one parent has their Thanksgiving meal at lunch and the other has it at dinnertime, the parties could agree to share the day.

            There are certain holidays, like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which both parents may celebrate, and those can be split such that one parent has custody from December 24th at 12:00 noon to December 25th at 12:00 noon and the other parent has custody from December 25th at 12:00 noon to December 26th at 12:00 noon.  This would be alternated each year so every other year, a parent has custody on Christmas morning. 

            Also, the Monday holidays such as President’s Day, MLK Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day, can be alternated, or the parent who has custody of the children on the weekend preceding the holiday would have custody of the Monday holiday, or the party who has custody of the Monday holiday would have custody for the contiguous weekend. 

            Parents should also consider if they want to travel with the children during the children’s winter break, spring break (which often fall around Easter or Passover), or on other holidays and how custody of those weeks/holidays will be divided.  Again, it may make sense to alternate them, after carving out the holiday, or including the holiday, if travel is planned.

            Each parent should consider what holidays and traditions are important to them, whether travel will be involved, and how best to reach an agreement, if possible with the other parent to share holidays.  Also remember, new traditions can be born and celebrated when you have custody of your children, and they don’t have to always occur on the date it says on the calendar.

            Most importantly remember that it is about maintaining stability for the children, as that is what is in their best interests.

Happy Holidays!

By Dori F. Green, Esquire

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